Communist Party Leadership Outlines 2010-2020 "Tibet Work" Priorities at "Fifth Forum"

March 9, 2010


The nine-member Standing Committee of the Political Bureau (Politburo) of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) convened the "Fifth Tibet Work Forum" on January 18-20, 2010, in Beijing. The Fifth Forum applied the highest imprimatur of Party power to policy objectives for the Tibetan autonomous areas of China during the period 2010 to 2020. The objectives of the Fifth Forum remain largely consistent with previous such meetings, but state resources available to expand and speed up policy implementation have increased as China's wealth increases and the country modernizes. Speaking at the forum, President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao laid out goals that would strengthen further policy initiatives that already have had substantial impact on the Tibetan people and culture: accelerating economic development, increasing household income (especially in rural areas), improving social services, and protecting "stability" by striking at what officials say is a separatist threat that "the Dalai clique" poses. Hu used a Marxist theoretical concept ("special contradiction") to cast the Dalai Lama ("the Dalai Clique") as a threat to ethnic unity and stability. In doing so, Hu may seek to heighten further the Party campaign against the Dalai Lama by linking resolution of the "special contradiction"―bringing to an end the Dalai Lama's influence among Tibetans in China―to the Party's reputation as "Communist."

The Fifth Forum introduced a new and important initiative: establishing the coordinated implementation of Party and government policies on Tibetan issues in an area that will include not just the Tibet Autonomous Region, but also Tibetan autonomous prefectures and counties located in Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan, and Yunnan provinces. The expanded area is contiguous and approximately doubles the number of Tibetans who live within the forum policy area. Fifth Forum objectives have incorporated measures and trends that took shape after the 2001 Fourth Forum on Tibet Work: using newly created government regulations to intrude upon and control Tibetan Buddhism, and expanding the campaign to end the Dalai Lama's influence among Tibetans. The Fifth Forum committed the Party and government leadership to achieving sweeping economic, social, and cultural changes throughout the Tibetan autonomous areas of China by 2020―the same year that the government intends to have completed the "redesign" of Lhasa and the construction of a network of railways crisscrossing the Tibetan plateau. [For more information on Chinese government plans for 2020, see the Commission's Special Topic Paper: Tibet 2008-2009.]

Prior to Fifth Forum, Politburo Sets "New" Governing Strategy: Developing a Tibet With "Chinese Characteristics" and "Tibetan Traits"

On January 8, 2010, 10 days prior to the start of the Fifth Tibet Work Forum (Fifth Forum), the Political Bureau (Politburo) of the Standing Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) met to assess "the advancement of work on Tibet's development by leaps and bounds and long-term order and stability in the new situation" during the period following the June 2001 Fourth Tibet Work Forum (Fourth Forum, see background information below), and to plan the Party’s "work on Tibet" for the period ahead, according to a Xinhua report the same day (translated in OSC, 8 January 10). A January 10 Xinhua report (translated in OSC, 10 January 10) on the January 8 meeting noted that the Politburo had finished "mapping out" a "new general strategy for governing Tibet" that stressed "four adherences:"

  • "Insist on adherence to the [CCP’s] leadership";
  • "Insist on adherence to the socialist system";
  • "Insist on adherence to the system of regional autonomy for minority nationalities"; and
  • "Insist on adherence to a development path with Chinese characteristics and Tibetan traits."

The fourth "adherence" demonstrates that the Party will continue the policy of creating a Tibet where the principal features (the "development path") are Chinese, but where "Tibetan traits" will remain. The Politburo, the highest-ranking bureau within the Party’s Central Committee, has 25 members according to an October 2007 Xinhua report. None of the Politburo members who established the "new general strategy for governing Tibet" are Tibetans. One of the 25 Politburo members is an ethnic minority (Hui Liangyu, an ethnic Hui) and one (Liu Yandong) is a female. The four "adherences" reinforce the high degree of subordination imposed on local ethnic autonomous governments established under China’s Constitution and Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law (REAL). [For more information on the REAL and China’s regional ethnic autonomy system, see the Commission's Special Topic Paper: Tibet 2008-2009, and Section III―Monitoring Compliance with Human Rights―Special Focus for 2005: China's Minorities and Government Implementation of the Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law―in the Commission's 2005 Annual Report.]

The Fifth Forum: Mixing Continuity, Policy Coordination Across an Expanded Tibetan Area, and a Struggle Against a "Special Contradiction"

The Entire Politburo Standing Committee Presides. According to a January 22 Xinhua report (translated in OSC, 25 January 10), the entire nine-member Politburo Standing Committee presided at the January 18-21 Fifth Forum: Party General Secretary and President of China Hu Jintao, Chairman of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee Wu Bangguo, Premier of the State Council Wen Jiabao, Chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference Jia Qinglin, Li Changchun, Vice President of China Xi Jinping, Vice Premier of the State Council Li Keqiang, He Guoqiang, and Secretary of the Party Central Committee’s Politics and Law Commission Zhou Yongkang. A total of 332 officials representing the Party and central government, the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), other provincial-level areas, the People’s Liberation Army, and the People’s Armed Police attended the meeting, the Xinhua report said.

Hu Jintao Claims National and International Stakes for Tibetan Development, Stability. Hu Jintao linked the outcome of the Fifth Forum to international well-being, saying that the Party’s Tibet work was "vital to ethnic unity, social stability and national security, as well as a favorable international environment," according to a January 23, 2010, Xinhua report. Hu used the Marxist notion of "contradiction" to identify economic development as the key to resolving the needs of Tibetan people, according to the January 22 Xinhua report: "Comprehensively speaking, the principal contradiction of the Tibetan society remains . . . the contradiction between the increasingly growing material and cultural needs of the people and the backward social production. . . . [The] theme of the work of Tibet must be the promotion of development by leaps and bounds and long-term stability." Hu called on forum attendees to "substantially prevent and strike [against] 'penetration and sabotage' by 'Tibet independence' separatists in order to safeguard social stability, [the] socialist legal system, the fundamental interests of the public, national unity, and ethnic solidarity," according to the January 23 Xinhua report.

Maintaining Rural Priority: Boost Income, Provide Services, Build Infrastructure. Hu Jintao told Fifth Forum attendees that by 2015 the gap between the income level of TAR farmers and herders and the national average must be "markedly narrowed" and by 2020 the gap must be nearly closed, according to the January 22 Xinhua report. None of the state-run media reports on the Fifth Forum seen by the Commission acknowledge that Tibetan farmers and herders in locations throughout the Tibetan autonomous areas of China participated in the peaceful protests (and some rioting) that began in Lhasa in March 2008 then swept across the ethnic Tibetan area of China. The government's ability to provide basic public services in rural areas must be "markedly increased" by 2015 and must be near the national level by 2020, the same report said. (See a June 2007 Human Rights Watch (HRW) report for information on the compulsory settlement of Tibetan nomadic herders in Tibetan autonomous areas of China.) Infrastructure construction must make "great progress" by 2015, the January 22 Xinhua report said, and by 2020 infrastructure must be "comprehensively improved." (See the Commission's Special Topic Paper: Tibet 2008-2009 for information on plans for a network of railways crisscrossing the Tibetan plateau and the "redesign" of Lhasa that the government intends to complete by 2020, and a Commission article on the planned Sichuan-Tibet railway that may surpass the Qinghai-Tibet railway in its demographic and economic impact.)

A New Development: Policy Coordination Across an Expanded Tibetan Area. The Fifth Forum expanded its purview beyond the administrative boundaries of the TAR to include Tibetan autonomous prefectures and counties that are located in Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan, and Yunnan provinces, according to the January 23 Xinhua report. The policy change more than doubles the number of Tibetans who live within the forum's contiguous target area, based on official 2000 census data: of approximately 5.42 million Tibetans in China, approximately 2.43 million Tibetans lived in the TAR and approximately 2.57 million Tibetans lived in the Tibetan autonomous areas of Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan, and Yunnan. (See Special Topic Paper: Tibet 2008-2009, 22, 24, for a map and population data.) According to the January 22 Xinhua report, the Fifth Forum called on "central authorities" to "provide greater policy support and promote new steps forward in the development of the Tibetan-inhabited areas in these four provinces," and for provincial Party and government officials to "grasp [Tibet work] as a key task in their respective economic and social development, and mobilize forces of various quarters of the whole province to support the development of these areas." The Commission has not seen official reports on measures that national Party and government offices may adopt to coordinate or oversee Fifth Forum policy implementation, or what effect expanded national Party and government oversight may have on provincial, prefectural, and county governments. The Fifth Forum identified four issues as "the main direction of attack" for resolving "the most conspicuous and most urgent issues restraining economic and social development," according to the January 22 Xinhua report (listed in the order reported):

  • "Improvement in the people's livelihood";
  • "Development of social undertakings";
  • "Protection for the ecological environment"; and
  • "Construction of the infrastructure."

A "Special Contradiction:" Hu Jintao Invokes Marxist Theory To Reinforce Struggle Against the Dalai Lama's Influence. Hu Jintao used the Fifth Forum―with the entire Politburo Standing Committee in attendance―to apply a Marxist theoretical concept ("special contradiction") to what the Party characterizes as a threat to ethnic unity and stability created by the Dalai Lama and organizations and individuals that the Party associates with him ("the Dalai Clique"). In addition to describing a "principal contradiction" (see National, International Stakes Claimed for Tibetan Development, Stability above), Hu told Fifth Forum attendees, "[There] also exists in Tibet the special contradiction between the people of various ethnic groups and the secessionist forces represented by the Dalai clique," the January 22 Xinhua report said. Hu may seek to improve the Party's reputation as "Communist" by using the Marxist premise of a "special contradiction" to heighten further the Party campaign against the Dalai Lama―and seeking to end the Dalai Lama’s influence among Tibetans in China. According to an academic abstract (scroll down for English) available on the Web site of Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou city, Guangdong province, Marxism posits that a "special contradiction" may exist when an entity (e.g., an ethnic minority group) experiences "alienation" and makes the "mistake" of equating alienation with "differentiation" and putting alienation into "historical categories."

Increasing Pressure on Religion: The "Normal Order" for Tibetan Buddhism. Hu Jintao emphasized at the Fifth Forum the Party's role in controlling Tibetan Buddhism, according to the January 22 Xinhua report: "Comprehensively implement the Party's basic principles for religious work and laws and regulations on the government's administration of religious affairs, earnestly maintain the normal order of Tibetan Buddhism, and guide Tibetan Buddhism to keep in line with the socialist society." Hu's reference to "laws and regulations" is important because the TAR and central governments issued measures effective in 2007 that provide for increased state regulation of Tibetan Buddhism. The Standing Committee of the TAR People’s Government issued the TAR Implementing Measures for the Regulation on Religious Affairs (CECC translation), effective January 1, 2007, which imposed stricter and more detailed controls on religious activity in the TAR than previous measures. (See Section IV―Tibet: Special Focus for 2007 of the Commission's 2007 Annual Report, 193-196, for information on the TAR measures; see China Elections and Governance Web site for a translation of the State Council Regulation on Religious Affairs effective March 1, 2005.) The State Administration for Religious Affairs issued the Measures on the Management of the Reincarnation of Living Buddhas in Tibetan Buddhism (ICT translation), effective September 1, 2007, which could transform Tibetan Buddhism in China by empowering the Party and government to gradually reshape the religion by controlling one of the religion's most unique and important features―lineages of teachers that Tibetan Buddhists believe are reincarnations (trulkus) and that can span centuries. According to a January 10, 2010, Xinhua report (translated in OSC, 11 January 10), the TAR government will complete in 2010 a registration of monasteries and nunneries ("places of religious activities") and the "qualifications of living Buddhas [trulkus], monks, and nuns." The Commission has not seen reports concerning what actions TAR authorities may take as a result of the registration of monks' and nuns' "qualifications."

Initial Reports on Fifth Forum Do Not Address Some Key Issues. State-run media reports on the Fifth Forum seen by the Commission in the days following the Fifth Forum are noteworthy for what they do not include. None of the reports provided any details about infrastructure and aid projects over the decade, or any information about the cost of such projects. Considering the 33 billion yuan (US$4.7 billion) cost of the Qinghai-Tibet railway, the total cost of additional railways linking Tibetan autonomous areas with Gansu, Sichuan, and Yunnan provinces and to the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region could far surpass 100 billion yuan. (See the Commission's 2008 Annual Report, 193, and Special Topic Paper: Tibet 2008-2009, 46-47, for information on other planned railways.) None of the Fifth Forum reports provided information about whether or not Party and government personnel canvassed Tibetans at the grassroots level on their preferences for economic and social development. None of the reports provided information on whether "Tibet work" over the coming decade aims to improve the human rights environment for Tibetans along with their standard of living, or whether officials intend to address in a reconciliatory manner any of the complaints Tibetan protesters have raised beginning in March 2008. (See Section V―Tibet of the Commission's 2008 Annual Report for information on the cascade of Tibetan protests that began in Lhasa on March 10, 2008, and then spread across much of the ethnic Tibetan areas of China.)

Background: 1980 to 2001, the First Four "Tibet Work" Forums

The series of five forums on "Tibet work" (1980, 1984, 1994, 2001, 2010) began after Deng Xiaoping called in 1978 for "reform and opening up," a post-Cultural Revolution policy for the long-term promotion of economic development as a means to secure national stability and prosperity. The first four forums focused only on the TAR, which Chinese officials refer to as "Tibet," and laid out broad economic, social, and political policies. A January 19, 2010, China Tibet Online report provides graphics that summarize economic development and aid projects provided to the TAR as a result of the 1980, 1984, 1994, and 2001 forums on Tibet work. None of the graphics provide any information on initiatives that focused on religious or cultural issues.

1980, 1984: First and Second Forums. The 1980 and 1984 forums took place when Hu Yaobang served as the Party General Secretary and a short-lived period of more liberal policies toward Tibetans prevailed, according to statements and analysis by the U.S. government (Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Bader, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, U.S. Department of State, testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 13 May 97), an academic expert (Professor Melvyn Goldstein, excerpt from a 1995 Atlantic Council paper available on the Web site of Columbia University), and an advocacy group (International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), Tibet at a Turning Point, 6 August 08, 95-96).

1994: Third Forum. The Party did not convene the Third Tibet Work Forum (Third Forum) in Beijing until July 20-23, 1994 (Xinhua, 26 July 94, translated in BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, reprinted in World Tibet Network (WTN), 28 July 94)―more than five years after March 1989 Tibetan protests and rioting in Lhasa resulted in nearly 14 months of martial law in the TAR capital (TIN, 25 February 99, reprinted in ICT). In comparison, the Fifth Forum convened less than two years after the March 2008 Tibetan protests. Hu Jintao, Secretary of the TAR Party Committee when Lhasa was under martial law, attended the Third Forum as a member of the Standing Committee of the Politburo. Party General Secretary and President of China Jiang Zemin told cadres attending the forum that stability is a prerequisite for development and that "the Dalai clique" is a "factor of instability," according to the July 26, 1994, Xinhua report. Jiang stated that the forum would be "a new starting point for Tibet's social and economic development" and announced a 2.38 billion yuan program whereby provincial-level areas and large cities would carry out 62 economic development projects in the TAR, the same report said. A September 1994 internal TAR Party document revealed the repressive nature of Third Forum initiatives that aimed, among other things, to seek to end the influence of "the Dalai clique" on Tibetan monastic and secular society; make use of legal measures to establish greater control over Tibetan Buddhist institutions; reduce the number of monks, nuns, monasteries and nunneries; and encourage non-Tibetans to travel to the TAR to seek economic opportunity (Document No. 5 of the Sixth Enlarged Plenary Session of the Standing Committee of the Fourth TAR Party Congress, translated in Cutting Off the Serpent's Head: Policy Changes in Tibet, 1994-95, HRW and TIN, Appendix C, March 1996, reprinted in HRW).

2001: Fourth Forum. The June 25-27, 2001, Fourth Tibet Work Forum, also convened in Beijing under Party General Secretary and President of China Jiang Zemin with the entire seven-member Standing Committee of the Politburo in attendance, maintained the priority of economic development in the TAR and increased spending exponentially (Xinhua, 29 June 01, translated in OSC, 29 June 01; TIN, 27 July 01, reprinted in WTN, 28 July 01). According to a Mingpao report published prior to the forum's start, the forum would "make arrangements to dispel the Dalai's influence among religion's believers so that the Tibetan people will switch their attention to 'Tibet's development and progress'" (Mingpao, 19 May 01 (translated in OSC, 19 May 01)). Premier Zhu Rongji stated at the forum that 117 state-funded construction projects valued at 31.2 billion yuan were underway―a sum that probably reflected the initial 26 billion yuan estimated construction cost (China Daily, 8 November 01) of the Qinghai-Tibet railway. (On October 15, 2005, China Daily reported a final construction cost of 33 billion yuan, then US$4.7 billion.) The Fourth Forum incorporated the objectives of two important developments in Chinese government policy and law that aimed to accelerate economic development in Tibetan and other ethnic minority areas and promote the Party model of social stability and national unity.

  • Great Western Development (GWD, Xibu da kaifa). In 1999, Jiang Zemin announced GWD, a program to accelerate economic development in an area made up of 12 provincial-level administrative areas, including all five of China's ethnic autonomous regions, and designated as "western China" for the purpose of the program. The Minister of the State Ethnic Affairs Commission described GWD in June 2000 as "the necessary choice for solving China's nationality problems." The Party circulated GWD policy guidelines in 2000 and GWD entered into effect on January 1, 2001. (See, Circular of the State Council on Policies and Measures Pertaining to the Development of the Western Region, 26 October 00, reprinted on the Meishan Municipality (Sichuan province) People's Government Web site (scroll down for English).) On June 29, 2001, two days after the Fourth Forum concluded, construction began on the Qinghai-Tibet railway, officially designated as a key GWD project.
  • Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law (REAL) amendment. On February 28, 2001, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress amended China's principal law governing the rights of ethnic minorities and the function of local governments of ethnic autonomous areas. (See Special Topic Paper: Tibet 2008-2009 for maps and information on Tibetan autonomous areas in China; see Section II―Human Rights―Ethnic Minority Rights in the Commission's 2009 Annual Report for recent information on ethnic minority issues.) The amended REAL "stipulates that . . . the state shall prioritize rational resource exploitation projects and infrastructural projects in localities under ethnic autonomy in accordance with unified plans and market demand," Xinhua reported on the date of amendment (translated in OSC, 28 February 01). According to a March 2001 TIN report (reprinted in WTN, 14 March 01), the amendments "bring [the REAL] into line with new policies to accelerate economic development in the western regions of China," and "focus on the development of autonomous regions according to the Party's political and economic priorities and the further integration of these areas into the rest of China."

See the Commission's 2009 Annual Report for additional information on issues including the freedom of religion in China and ethnic minorities' rights under China's Constitution and law.